The night stretched on languorously, and not for the first time, Tsunade found herself pining for a full bottle of sake.
Contrary to popular belief, Tsunade's favorite drinking binges occurred during her happiest, most content moods, not during her periods of greatest stress. And right now, frankly, there was nothing going on.
And in a shinobi village, "nothing going on" translated to "no catastrophes to handle." Typically a good thing, something every Kage in every nation strove for.
It had been three years since the end of the war, and Tsunade was nearing the end of her tenure as Hokage. She was grooming an exuberant Uzumaki Naruto for the job, in between regular training sessions with Sakura.
She had nothing left to teach the pink-haired progeny, and Tsunade knew that Sakura knew that fact well. But Tsunade had come to love her like a daughter and Sakura loved her back, so they kept up with their tradition as a way of spending time together. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday nights were Tsunade's favorite of the week.
She eyed a mounting stack of incomplete paperwork with vehement dislike before standing and approaching the window. Hands clasped behind her back, Tsunade swept amber eyes across the peaceful village, ever vigilant and watchful.
She was not expecting a late night visitor, so when the door knocked quietly behind her, she barked out, "Who is it?"
The door opened to reveal perhaps the last shinobi Tsunade would have expected to see in her office. Six feet of tightly corded muscles, black hair, black eyes, hands shoved in his pockets.
"Uchiha," she said sharply. "What are you doing here this late?"
Sasuke, she noticed, looked particularly ill at ease. She supposed someone who knew the sole Uchiha survivor less would disagree. His face was stoic and calm, his posture straight, the perfect picture of poise. But after years of interacting with the boy her two favorite shinobi never gave up on, she recognized the way his jaw was clenched, the stiffness to his posture. She suspected that the hands hidden by his pockets were clenched into white-knuckled fists. Uchiha Sasuke, nervous?
"Well?" she prompted irritably. She was not known for her patience.
Sasuke was quiet still before he bowed slightly in respect. An elegant blonde eyebrow raised at the unexpected gesture. Sasuke was not known for his respect.
"Hokage-sama..." Again, she was surprised. Never did Sasuke address anyone with an honorific. He considered it beneath him.
"I have a request."
She rolled her eyes and turned her back to him. "Mission requests are reserved for the daylight hours, Uchiha," she snapped dismissively. "Until then don't bother me."
"It wasn't for a mission, Hokage-sama," Sasuke countered. He seemed determined to keep controlled and polite, but she caught the waver of irritation in his voice. "I came to ask your permission to...to ask Sakura to marry me."
Tsunade didn't say anything, didn't move, for a very long time. She kept her eyes on the night sky, but they were wide with shock.
It wasn't as though this scenario was unexpected. Sasuke had been dating Sakura for nearly a year now and the whole village knew it. Tsunade had long suspected that her protegee and the Uchiha would tie the knot eventually; the news that Sasuke planned to do just that was a little surprising, but kind of predictable.
But she could not have expected this...the sulky, brooding little brat, coming to her for permission?
"And why, exactly, are you here? For my approval? You don't have it, you never will. No one will. But that doesn't matter...you need Sakura's consent, not mine. So again. Why bother asking me?"
She still didn't face him so she couldn't see the expression on his face as he replied, "I was raised to have permission from the parents of the girl I intended to marry. Sakura's parents are dead. And...she regards you as a mother."
Tsunade was quiet, contemplative for a few moments. She was deeply touched at Sasuke's words; he both respected the maternal bond between her and Sakura, and was trying to be honorable about their marriage by seeking her blessing.
"Tell me why you want to marry her," Tsunade said softly. Depending on his answer, he would have hers.
"I know what everyone is thinking," Sasuke replied. His voice was deep and thoughtful. She could just picture the slouch. "That I want to use Sakura to restore the Uchiha Clan."
"I didn't ask what everyone is thinking," the Hokage barked in retort. "I asked why YOU want to marry her. Speak quickly, boy, it's late."
"Sakura's...she's the best part of me. She's everything I'm not and everything I try to be. She's brave and smart and strong and beautiful...and I know she could have any guy in the village she wanted...but..."
He cut off, frustrated with his inability to articulate his thoughts, and Tsunade smiled wistfully.
"Hmm. I doubt the elders would be happy with that arrangement. Sakura is a very valuable combat med-nin...relegating her to the role of wife and mother would be detrimental to her kunoichi career."
"I want to marry Sakura, not force her into retirement." She caught the slight sarcasm in his tone but ignored it. "What she does with her time is her business."
"And what of the other village girls, hmm? I'm sure the elders would agree that Hyuuga Hinata would be a much better match, as the inheritor to a clan as powerful as yours once was, with a kekkai genkai to boot. Same with Ino of the Yamanaka Clan. Sakura is not from a powerful ninja clan; her parents were civilians."
"I don't care about that," he responded heatedly. "I'm not in this for the Clan!"
"Then why, Sasuke?" demanded Tsunade. She whirled around at last to face him, eyes blazing with the protection of an angry mother. "Why do you want to marry her, if not for your Clan?"
"Because I love her!" he erupted, yelling at last, shaking with anger and frustration. "I love her, damn it, more than I love my Clan, more than I love myself, more than anything! She's my family now! She's everything and you're right, I don't deserve her and I never will but I have to try and make her happy! She's the only good thing about me!"
Sasuke was breathing heavily after his confession, winded and furious. Tsunade smiled.
"Oh, I think you're wrong, Uchiha. She's not the only good thing about you."
Tsunade crossed the room towards the boy and placed her hands on his shoulders.
"Uchiha Sasuke, you will never deserve to marry Haruno Sakura. But...I suppose she could do a lot worse."
Sasuke's black eyes widened slightly before, understanding, he bowed in gratitude.
"Thank you, Hokage-sama."
"Not so fast," she said harshly. "First thing's first: her favorite flowers are cosmos. Her birthday is March 28 so you'd better never forget. If you so much as glance at another woman ever again, you will be castrated. You will be a good husband to her, Sasuke. I will permit nothing less."
Sasuke smirked. "Yes, ma'am," he murmured somewhat mockingly.
Tsunade smirked in return. "Now get the hell out of my office and don't you dare bother me at such a late hour again."